past & present: textile designer vera neumann

Image above: illustration by Julia Rothman

When I emailed Grace and told her that I was thinking of devoting this week’s Past & Present to Vera Neumann, her response was (and I’m quoting here), “VVVVVEEEERRRRRAAA.” So yeah, we might have a wee Vera obsession and since Grace and I are heading to Atlanta on Friday for the Lavish conference — and Atlanta just happens to be the headquarters of the Vera company — it seemed fitting that we take a look at this American designer and entrepreneur.

Image above: Vera in “New Ways with Wallpaper,” Life Magazine, 1958.

Although Vera is known for her iconic scarves that became hugely popular in the 60s (even Marilyn Monroe was a fan — she posed with a Vera scarf in her photo shoot for Vogue just before her death), Vera got her start by creating housewares. One of four children growing up in Stamford, Connecticut, Vera was encouraged to be artistic. Her father would pay her fifty cents to fill a sketchbook! She went to Cooper-Union and the Traphagen School of Design and gravitated toward textile design. She was initially thrilled to get a job straight out of school but balked at being asked to blatantly copy the work of other designers.

Image above: White House Sun Room in 1952, after the reconstruction decorated by Vera (via White House Museum).

Vera quit her design job. And while working as a freelance designer for children’s fabrics and murals, she met her future husband, George Neumann. George came from a textile design family and was incredibly supportive of Vera’s ambitions. After the couple married in 1938, they built a small silkscreen to fit on a kitchen table in their tiny New York apartment. The only things small enough to silkscreen were placemats, so that’s where they started.

Image above: Square Dance Sail Cloth, c. 1945–1955, from the collection at the Museum of Modern Art.

Vera’s transition from housewares to scarves came out of necessity. During World War II, she had difficulty sourcing linen but discovered an abundance of parachute silk at her local army supply store. The well-known Vera logo was created because, as part of the process of silkscreening her paintings onto the scarves, her signature transferred as well. The scarves were an instant success and by the 1970s, Vera’s kitchen table business had grown to a $100 million international business.

CLICK HERE for more Vera (including a mini roundup of fun Vera designs!)

Image above: Vera painting, from The Vera Company.

Not only was Vera a talented designer, but she was also a licensing pioneer. By 1972, her designs were sold in 20,000 stores around the world. With everything from sportswear to housewares, she was arguably the first true lifestyle brand.

The Vera Company continues to see that Vera’s designs make it out into the world and just last year, the company did a fantastic collaboration with Anthropologie. You can also find some great pillows on Etsy made out of graphic Vera scarves. Here are just a few of my favorite Vera items — at the top of my list is the new Vera book by Susan Seid, which would be a fantastic gift if you know any Vera fans. (Hmmmm . . . I think I know what is going under the tree for Grace!)

Image above: 1. Shadow Play Pillowcase, $19.95 (on sale from $68); 2. Lofty Larks Wallpaper, $88; 3. Vera Neumann Striped Napkin Pillow, $38; 4. Vera Brushed Blossom Umbrella, $35; 5. Vera: The Art and Life of an Icon, $23.10; 6. Bertram Chair, Vera Bubbles, $849.95 (on sale from $1,598)

Image above: 1. Vera Buffet, Blue, $5.24; 2. Fruit Bowl, Blue, $5.24; 3. Set of 6 Irish Linen Napkins, $120; 4. Spice Jars, $5.24

  1. Linda says:

    I have a question–I found a Vera scarf but it doesn’t have her signature. The label on it says “scarves by Vera, all silk, designed and hand screened in USA”. Can anyone tell me more about this scarf, like when was it made, and is it unusual?

    Thank you!

    1. Grace Bonney says:

      hi linda

      that sounds like an original, but without knowing the pattern, i can’t track down the date :(

      vera produced in the south, so it’s common to find her silk scarves made in the usa.


  2. nancy says:

    hello there-I love these pics!!! We were lucky enough to have lived near one of Vera’s top designers!!! She collected all kinds of things from Vera, including a silk screen mat (?) with many trees in design. Along with many table cloths, napkins, scarfs, lady bug silk screen designs, lady bugs, stick pin, matches, color codes & sample colors & a Chinese silk embroidered linen. They are all beautiful. It was passed on to us as our neighbor passed away. She loved telling stories about working for Vera. She was a talented artist. If you know of anyone interested in purchasing items, please contact me. I could also send pics. Thank you :)

    1. Robin Davis says:

      Hi Nancy,

      I am interested in purchasing items from your collection. Thank you for sharing your story. I would love to hear more.

      Thanks again,

  3. cheryl says:

    Quick questions about Vera.
    I am cleaning out my closets and came across some Schumacher fabric by Vera. It measures 96 x 37 (includes the selvage signature edge). It is signed “Schumacher Handprint Sunshine Flower”.

    It is a beatiful piece of yellow sunflowers on a gray and cream background. Yeah…I know the gray is very unexpected but it looks amazing and details are exquisite

    I did find some information on the sunroom Vera did for the Trumans when they were in the White House. If you know anything else, I would love to learn more.


  4. Juanita Uccello says:

    My husband used to work for Printex in Ossining, New York. He worked in the color shop with Ted Murphy. We have a screen print signed by Vera. It looks to represent a wave. He said it was a gift from Vera upon leaving the company. He was hired by Phil Salaff, Vera’s brother. After leaving the company, he worked as a correction officer for Westchester County, New York. My question is “is the signed print we have of value other than sentimental value?” Thank you, Juanita Uccello

  5. jane says:

    I have 30 yardage of panels of floral with signature Vera
    I was wondering in I could send a photo, I would like
    more info on them, they would make great large pillows
    or framed art but not sure if authentic.
    Thank you


Design*Sponge reserves the right to restrict comments that do not contribute constructively to the conversation at hand, contain profanity, personal attacks, hate speech or seek to promote a personal or unrelated business. Our goal is to create a safe space where everyone (commenters, subjects of posts and moderators) feels comfortable to speak. Please treat others the way you would like to be treated and be willing to take responsibility for the impact your words may have on others. Disagreement, differences of opinion and heated discussion are welcome, but comments that do not seek to have a mature and constructive dialogue will not be published. We moderate all comments with great care and do not delete any lightly. Please note that our team (writers, moderators and guests) deserve the same right to speak and respond as you do, and your comments may be responded to or disagreed with. These guidelines help us maintain a safe space and work toward our goal of connecting with and learning from each other.